Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Mid week

There's hardly a leaf to be seen, and we're forecast another windy day, with frost on Friday.
This was drawn on prepared paper with a flat-nibbed dip pen (sort of medium calligraphy width). In fact I'm loving the effect dip pens have on simple lines. They're not as random to use a a stick dipped in ink, or as uniform as fine-liners. Brush pens create a sweeping line with smooth edges. Whereas dip pens require respect whilst using them, as they seem all easy-going one moment, then BAM, you get a funky squiggle, and they can lay down a lot of ink in one go so that, when you draw over a line, you get some pooling where they cross. I've been using the nibs from cartridge pens as dip pens so, as the drawing session progresses, the reservoir fills up so you don't have to 'dip' so often. Magical.

Lino prints

As I mentioned, I'd dampened some paper to make lino prints of a block I'd cut back in June of Penshaw Monument. I'd read repeatedly that dampened paper enables the ink/paint to transfer and adhere better to the paper than using dry paper. They were right. Previously I had to make sure that my lino block was well covered in acrylic paint, as it dries fast on the block if applied thinly and leaves bare patches on the print. Then, when I lay the dry paper onto the block and applied pressure, the paint would squash between the block and the paper, moving into and obliterating any fine lines I'd cut, and gooing out over carefully cut edges, so the image wasn't hard-edged any more. In addition, as I removed the paper from the block the paint would stretch between the two like melted cheese and form feathered areas on the print.
BUT....... with dampened paper I can use less paint, as the paper now absorbs the paint on contact with the block, leaving a much sharper image, and I can use my fingers to press the paper into the recessed areas giving a lovely relief effect. This has re-enamoured me to lino prints, so watch this space.
Oh, the image at the top was done on scrap paper I'd dampened, which already had scruffy black marks. They're not a result of bad printing. But you can see the accuracy of line I've reproduced here, which would never have been possible on dry paper.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Preparation, and then something odd

Do you ever have days when you want to spend the day making art, but just can't nail anything concrete down? This was that kind of day. So I dampened some paper in readiness for lino printing and, in the mean time, made some rubbings in oil pastel of the lino block I'd cut of Penshaw Monument. I messed around with different coloured pastels, and then tried rubbing the sky block, and then the monument block over that. With questionable success. Never mind; they'll make useful starting points for the collages I want to do.

Then, I started scribbling a skyscape on cartridge paper, which then took off and became this mad view of Penshaw Monument. There's not enough contrast for me to be totally happy with it, but I like the layering and inter-mingling of colours and lines. Again, maybe I'll rip it up and turn it into something else.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

No colour here

Only the lines of the bare branches across the road from my house. I spent an hour crouched on a folding chair in the cold drawing these with a dip pen in b;ack Quink ink on watercolour paper. Here's a tip; if you turn your drawing pad round so that the spiral-bound side is windward then you don't keep getting your pages blown open. I just wish someone had told me that sooner.

These are the kind of drawings I'll never be able to look at without being there again in the cold wind wearing an itchy scarf, with traffic rushing past behind me and the sun going down on my right.

Friday, 14 November 2008

It was raining..

... all day yesterday, so I didn't dare take the camera up Penshaw Hill. But, I did do some work in the Moleskine Exchange I'm involved in. I'd been sitting on Brian McGurgan's book, the theme of which is STRETCH, and I'd been stuck for two months lacking both inspiration and drive. Anyway, the exchange has had a bit of a surge of energy this last week or so, so I took a look at it yesterday, opening the concertina pages which people had drawn and painted in before me, and I was immediately struck by the strong colour themes of purple and blue, orange and yellow which were running through it. There was also a great linear continuity which I wanted to add to. I won't publish the final piece just yet, because I'm posting it onto Lindsay of Non Linear Arts now, and we agreed not to spoil the surprise so that the recipient will get to look at it. But we are allowed to show 'teasers', so here's mine.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Penshaw in the Moleskine

Penshaw Monument, June 08, acrylic lino print Back in June 2008 I made this piece for the Moleskine Exchange I'm involved in. The subject of this book is Freedom, and I loved the sense of scale I was able to achieve. As I've explained before, Penshaw Monument is huge and I'm only quite small, and have been visiting it since I was even smaller. So when I'm drawing it, I want to get across the sense of scale, that it's too big for me to take in, that it's too big to fit on the page, or in a camera's viewfinder.
This image was made by lino-print on paper I'd pre-painted with acrylic paints. I made three prints of the monument, and I printed the sky directly into the Moleskine book. The printed images were then cut up and re-assembled, making the monument quite textural on the page.
Now I intend to make more of these images, using similar construction techniques, exploring different backgrounds and colour-ways, as this was done in summer, and we are now well into autumn here. So much so that the constant drizzle we're getting has prevented me photographing Penshaw. Digital camera + driving rain = insurance claim.

Monday, 3 November 2008


I came across this painting about a year ago, though I have no remembrance of how I found it on the Internet. I'll have been doing a Google image search of something. Anyway, I just love it. It's Everett Shinn's 'Tightrope Walker', painted in 1924, currently at the Dayton Art Institute in Ohio. I know nothing about the painter, but this painting grabs me. Why? Because of the great composition, the white figure top-centre and the chandelier top-left, and the lit archway mid-right. I love the rough rendering of the audience and architecture of the theatre, and the strong verticals of the stage, the acrobats limbs and gaze, and the sense of space he's created. This figure really is teetering on a wire, high in the gallery of the theatre, with a great void below and around him. It's dramatic, an I'm spellbound.
So I thought I'd share it with you because I haven't any of my own works to post about at the moment.

Saturday, 1 November 2008

Happy Halloween

I hope you can all recognise who I'm dressed as here!!!

Friday, 31 October 2008

Brass Pot

Charcoal preliminary drawing, soft pastel modelling and colour. As you can guess I was stuck by the variety of colour in the brass.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Broken pencil and ink

At a huge art store in Manchester I bought, amongst other things, a pot of dip-pen ink in a fantastic deep and dirty red. I'd been reading about Jim Butler in the Artist & Illustrator's magazine, who draws city landscapes in ink with a stick over found paper. So, to try out these new inks I drew by dipping in a broken pencil end. The variety of marks were controllable to some degree, though I did find that the relatively poor quality paper meant that the ink soaked through to the page below. I have a range of coloured inks at home so I may have fun in the future doing some people studies using this technique.
Funnily enough, Jim has done a lot of studies Manchester scenes. Unluckily, I didn't have time to stop and sketch in the city that day.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Still life with a box of red wine

This is more like it, and the brother-in-law is on the Martini. The bad news is that I think I've lost my sister. Here's what happened; we read through an exercise in one of the books I'd brought on the stages of painting a still life in pastels - start out with a charcoal outline, then lay in the shadows gently, then put in the local colour of the objects, then develop these with modelling, and finally add detail. Mine was going fine, so I stopped for a bit to look at what my sister was doing, and made a few suggestions, and then some more. It was when I asked if she minded if I drew on her work to demonstrate what I was failing to convey in words and she adamantly told me NO! that I knew I'd overstepped the mark.

We laughed about it, and she's been digging me about it ever since, but I think I've learnt that if we're drawing together, to leave her to it until she asks me for help or advice. She is also an Open University tutor, and understands how to give feedback, constructive criticism and all that. I don't. I'm a well-meaning oaf who can't keep her gob shut. I'm just glad she hasn't asked me to go home.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Still life with stewed tea

Here's the first still life I've drawn in a long, long time. One of my sisters has started drawing and painting, and she'd asked about soft pastels. So we set up a still life, and had a go. Mine was a monumental failure. I won't even say that it was fun to do, and the whole time I was gasping for a cup of tea. It's done on A4 pastel paper, and the whole image is too small, leaving me no room to explore the surfaces and describe the shapes. I haven't done any underpainting, just lashed on the local colour, put in some detail, and then wondered why it all went so wrong. Back to the drawing board. Well, actually, back to the 'How to Paint in Pastels' books I've brought with me. In the mean time, I'm having a fantastic time at my sister's, as I always do.

Friday, 24 October 2008

Tree #9

This time I decided not to lay down the sky first, but to work on the foreground and background at the same time. I drew in the foliage, then filled in the gaps with sky. Then I filled in the gaps in the sky with more sky colours, then back to the foliage.

I completed the top half and took a break before tackling the bottom. That was when I decided to pick out the reds in the planting behind the fence. I went a bit wild with pinks and purples, but I'm happy with the contrast to the sky. That done, I needed to beef up the tree some more.
The muted greens and greys are still merging too much with the scruffy blues in the sky. Any ideas how to bring the tree forward from the sky? Anyone?

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Trees #8

At the weekend I went shopping to a cheap stationary shop and picked up this new set of pastels. I'm squashing the urge to use every stick in the box, just picking the main tones, and laying them next to each other so I don't end up with a muddy mess.

This was painted at 2pm, another overcast afternoon, with a light wind catching the upper branches.
The next day I looked at this and decided to put a white wash of pastel over the background, and I think that was an improvement. I want to work over the top of this again, because I still don't think the canopy is strong enough. I like the way the building is looking through this wash, definitely a case of 'less is more'.
Another feature I like is the shape of the left-most branch merging with the green/black foliage. I like that solidity contracted against the lighter touch of the wind-brushed leaves top right.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Tree #7

This tree is further down the row, and was the first one I did in felt tip pens. I painted this the same time as the previous two, just before the setting sun was hidden behind the tower blocks up-river, casting my trees into shadow. They are my trees now, by the way.

I'm now at the stage where I want some more pastels to work with, as I mentioned previously. I want to get to grips with the fantastic sage green of the trunks, and capture the moody shadows amongst the foliage.

This is the box of pastels I'm working with and, as you can see, they're mostly brights.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Tree #6

This was done straight after the previous one, because I wanted the leaves to really quiver and shimmer. I'm enjoying finding different ways of applying the pastel to the paper - broad strokes, smudged areas, dots, scribbles and stabbing. After I was done I decided to liven up the sky area. I think I was too heavy handed with the sky here, but it's fun to try things out.

Monday, 20 October 2008

Tree #5

Late yesterday afternoon at 5pm the sun was setting and the wind was blowing down the Wear River out to see. I wanted to catch the quivering leaves and the dramatically lit tree trunks. So I pared down the background and concentrated on the trees.

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Tree #4

This was painted early in the morning, with an overcast sky, so there was a hint of the sunrise low on the horizon to the left, but no dramatic side-lighting as I'd seen on the previous mornings. I almost didn't do this study, because at first glance it looked quite drab, but then I started to see the depths of colour in the foliage, and I stuck with it.

Because there's no detail in the treetop to hold the eye, I think the background is a distraction here. I could have done with simplifying the background more, and emphasised the strong shapes in the tree. Writing this I'm now hoping for a dull day so I try out that idea. I do like the vague dark haze created by the background planting, with suggestions of water and buildings beyond.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Tree #3, of three trees

Later the same day as the previous post. It's now 4pm and the sun is low in the west (front/right). I start with the cold pale sky, sea and river, and roofs. Then I lay on the planting behind the trees, and I am a very happy person, because it's working. I need more colours in my palette; a darker grey and more neutral greens and a range of some off-whites. Anyway, onto the grass and path, then back to the fence. I don't like the fence as it's come out too bright. Some work on the foliage in the trees behind, then I plough on with the three trees. I map in the trunks, which I'm still not happy with, then work on the foliage. Again, it's just not working. So I screw up my eyes and look again. All of a sudden, as through I have put on my art goggles, I see the swathes of colour in the trees and BAM, I've caught it. Peering again I see the highlights, so I add them in, cursing the brightness of the only white I have. Okay, add in the fallen leaves on the grass, shadow, then I decide to add one of the lamposts which are a characteristic of the Roker seafront, and I'm almost done. The sky around the trees is paler, so I sketch that in, and I like the way it livens up the whole thing. The trees aren't as solid as this morning's effort, but I love the composition, and I'm definitely getting somewhere fast. What do you think?

Friday, 17 October 2008

Tree #2

tree #2 Same time, next day, and I'm back in the porch. This morning the sky behind is a pale apricot, and there's a definite purple tint in the dark leaves. I start adding the planting behind the tree, but leave it only as a suggestion. I love the blocks of colour made by the sky - fence - grass - path - road, working down the page.
I initially dotted on the foliage of the tree, like dabs of paint impressionist-style, but I found it too hard, so I smudged it, then added the side-lit leaves on the left, and I think I like it. In fact I love it. The sea is the wrong colour, the tree trunk is wrong and I don't know how to fix it, but I'm not going to loose sleep over that. I'm just amazed already about how much colour I'm seeing in a view I've glanced at every day for nearly 15 years, but have never taken the time to look at.

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Tree #1

tree #1 I have used soft pastels to 'paint' with since I was about 12 years old. I remember the first set I got, and I have my first pictures somewhere, because I have all my old sketch books. My sisters and I all had hobbies - my younger sister played various instruments, which cost money, and my older sister was an avid reader, so she was always buying books. Me? I was happy with a scrap of paper and a 3B pencil. I would draw and draw until the pencil was a stub, and my dad would get paper free from school because he was a teacher. I'm sure I've told you this tale before..
Anyway, my parents were always delighted when I would ask for some new art materials, because I think they thought I was neglected compared to my sister. I must interject here that my parents had little money - it's not like they lavished us with extravagant gifts, and my sisters and I always valued anything were were given, be it new or second hand. I'm getting off subject.
My first set of pastels. Right.... so, this morning in the post is the book 'Colour and Light in Oils' by Nicholas Verrall. At the very beginning he says....the first important decision for an artist is which medium to use..... so we need to find the medium that we feel most happy with, the one that offers us the greatest potential to work in a positive, uninhibited way.'
Okay, so he'll never win the Nobel Prize for Literature, but this idea is timely for me because I am tackling colour - a subject I have avoided for a long time and which I'm determined to got to grips with. Choosing to work in a new medium would be taking on too much at once, and I'd be distracted by learning new techniques when I'm trying to learn about colour.
Hence, I am working in soft pastels. I am not an expert in them, let me get this straight from the start. BUT, they hold no fear for me, unlike the tense thrill I get from painting in oils. I can get them out when I have 20 minutes to spare, and pack them away quick when the kids threaten to interfere.
I may write about the paper I'm using, but I haven't got the pad handy so I won't right now. I want to tell you about this picture; it's the view across the road as I stand in my porch, leaning on the window sill (with a cup of sweet white tea). There's a row of trees on a grass verge, with a planted area behind, then the drop down to North Dock, and the mouth of the River Wear and the North Sea beyond. It's quite a simple view, with a lot of sky above which maybe I'll get into later, or maybe not. I like the lollipop trees, and at 7.30 am in the morning they're lit from the left/behind by the cold rising autumn sun.
This is the first of what I hope to be at least a dozen or so paintings of this subject. I was interrupted by the kids toward the end, and when I returned to the porch I decided to leave this one as it was.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Not happy, decisions to be made

Ugh. This is a colour drawing of the same stretch of trees done this morning at about 7.45am.
Pros - I'm looking intently at colour, and working on the same hand subject over and over is stopping from jumping to conclusions and making me really look. It's nice to line up the drawings next to each other afterwards and look at the differences the light and weather and changing seasons are making to the same scene.
cons - the limited colours I have are dissatisfying, and the scribbling of the fine nibs isn't letting me lay down colour fast enough. With this technique I'm left with a lot of white paper in the background which is diluting the effects I'm after.
Conclusion - abandon felt tip pens, reach for soft pastels, continue with colour studies.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Focus on colour

This morning I decided to record the view from my porch of the trees across the road. I want to find out what kind of trees they are, but I'm getting off subject.

Working with my kid's cheapo felt tip pens I scribbled in the tree with the bushes behind, and the grey sky. I tried to blur it with water and a brush, but the ink wasn't moving, so I photo-shopped it slightly to mess it up a bit. It's not good, but I learnt something by just looking at the colours. Ed Terpening works in colour, and he's an inspiration. How he achieves what he does with no use of line, just patches of paint I would love to learn. So I've ordered myself a book on Amazon this morning called Colour and Light in Oils by Nicholas Verrall and Robin Capon, and I intend to work through it, alongside my Penshaw project, and try to banish my ignorance and fear of colour and my dependence on line.

Friday, 3 October 2008

One down...

Yes, I think that looks better. I want to do a few more of these using the same 'scribbling' technique with brush pens. But I want to be braver with the colours.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Not quite there yet...

Looking at the photo shopped image I'm chuffed with how different this drawing has come out. I am conscious of the ochre stone under the coal soot, and of the reflected light on the surface. I'm also playing on the 'cool recedes, warm comes forward' theory.
I do think that the dark areas need to be even darker. What do you guys think?

Wednesday, 1 October 2008


The pale grey pen was running out as I scribbled in the right hand pillar, but this meant that as I slowed down the lines were darker, whereas speedy lines were quite faint.

The top left is looking messy and ambiguous, so next I want to work in some colour and emphasise what is foreground and what recedes.

Monday, 29 September 2008

Building up

Ignoring the right side, I worked over the columns on the left, adding some black over the grey. I can start to see roundness. But I want to add colour to deepen the effect; warm and cool tones. I have a set of 'landscape colour' pens, ochre, greens, burnt sienna. I'm not feeling precious about this work so I'm not scared to try out new techniques.

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Penshaw in pen

Using the scribbling method I've started to develop to fill in areas of tone & colour, I've made a start on the dark columns of Penshaw. I'm referring to the photo I took, and the 'photo shopped' version, and I'm drawing on the ochre colours I know are under the coal dust to build up the depths I'm after.
This is in it's very early stages yet, but I'm happy with the way it's going. You can still make out the areas I've mapped out with a 2B pencil, with the in fill done in Faber Castell Manga brush pens so far.

Friday, 26 September 2008

Late summer

While the kids played football, I drew part of the wooded hedge at our local park. We are lucky to have such a beautiful space just round the corner from our house, and it's yet another reason I love living in this neighbourhood. Roker Park has won awards for cleanliness, and the children's play area is about to undergo remodelling soon.This drawing was done in the enclosed scented garden with a Indian ink finewriter pen.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Mind blowing

Last night I went to see Matthew Bourne's Dorian Gray at the Newcastle Theatre Royal. I was gripping, and overwhelming. Wow. I'm lost for words to describe the experience, but this morning I'm getting flashes of images and sequences from the production in my mind's eye. I have never seen a dance narrative before, and I wonder how much more I derived from it already knowing the story.

Now I want to re-read Wilde's book, watch any film adaptations I can lay my hands on, and also look into Bourne's work and see what else I can get to see. Edward Scissorhands is coming to London over Christmas. What I wouldn't give....

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Colossal shadows

This image is a photo I took, then changed in Adobe Photoshop using the 'fresco' tool.

I love the undulating across the columns. When drawing on site I often loose track of the shadows and get lost in the detail. Photos like these mean I can go home and take a step back from the wind and grass.

Monday, 22 September 2008


Penshaw Hill itself is nestled amongst other hills stretching across Weardale. This is the view east across Herrington Park. If I was stood a little higher up Penshaw hill I could have added the North Sea in the far distance.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

The sky

The monument has no roof, and the sky can be seen in peculiar shapes between the apertures of the columns and the entablature (that means the top bit - more about that later).
I remember that when I was a child my dad would always exclaim, "It'll be nice when they get the windows in and the roof on!"

Friday, 19 September 2008


Penshaw Monument stands on a hill 136 metres above sea level, and is itself 20 metres high. I am just over 1.5 metres tall. So, whenever I visit, pulling up in the car at the bottom of the hill, walking up the hill and standing at the monuments feet, I am awed by it's size.

Penshaw Pillars

Pillar 8B graphite The pillars of Penshaw Monument are made of sandstone, which, it is rumoured, were taken from a nearby Roman dam. The whole monument is coated in coal dust which has accumulated over the years since it was erected in 1844.
I have taken on a challenge of working on it for 6 months, so we'll see where I end up around February 2009. As I post images I'll include some of it's history along the way.
I spent yesterday morning there making sketches and paintings and taking photos.

Sunday, 7 September 2008


The English sport of face pulling

Saturday, 6 September 2008

Old sketch books

It's lovely to take some time to look back through old sketch books, and follow the meandering of ideas.

Friday, 5 September 2008


In Eire most of the shop signs in the villages are still hand-painted. This I love, because in the UK most of the signs are printed on plastic using the same lettering & fake colours (you know what I mean) that we see everywhere. There's a pub nestled amongst about six other pubs in the village downs from my dad's house, and painted on the sign is a rabbit. I love that rabbit.

Now, there's a hare, which my dad has named Hector, who visits dad's house daily, and great joy was felt when my sisters and I visited some weeks back, and we all got to see that hare in the garden. He's a bold, strong looking chap.
I decided to turn the village rabbit into a hare for my dad. I can only show you the sketches because I didn't photograph the end result, which I've painted on my dad's key box, but I'm sure dad will send me a photo and I can then share it with you all. For now, you'll have to make do with the rough stuff.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Domesic Goddess

kitchen benchI'm home from our holidays and I'm back at work, the kids are back to school and it's time to get back into painting. I had no idea that it is the routine I have at home that allows me time for my art. While travelling with the kids, visiting family, day trips and picnics there's been little if no time to myself and for drawing or painting. I thought it would be otherwise, I imagined afternoons sketching while the children played, but we had a full calender and the five weeks have flown past.

I've had a fantastic time and I have great plans for our summer break next year.

BUT, it's time to get back into my routines at home, and to dust off the drawing table.

What's to come? Well, I've been working in the Moleskine exchange books, I want to make notes about the exhibitions I've been visiting over the summer, and I'm determined to resume daily drawing and painting. I've enjoyed the break from it all, but goodness - it's good to be back.

Sunday, 10 August 2008


Tomorrow I'm taking my two beautiful children to see their Gangan in County Limerick, Eire. He lives in a cottage high up the side of a hill, overlooking a valley and the hills beyond. Once there, Dad and I will stand at the kitchen window, or lean on the bottom half of the front door from about 6am onwards watching the valley wake up. He shares the hill with hares, a fox, swallows, pied wagtails, a rat, and loads of other LBJs (in birding terms this means 'little brown jobs'- relating to all small, quick, flitting blurred things you glimpse).
He was involved in a car crash yesterday when an oncoming car did a right hand turn across the road in front of him while he was driving on a dual carriage-way at 60 miles an hour. Dad clipped the guy's rear end and spun. Luckily he stayed on his side of the carriage-way so didn't hit any oncoming traffic (there wasn't a central barrier on this road), and his air bag went off, preventing any injuries. Dad's shook up, but is okay other than that. His car has been written off, but hey, that's nothing. It could have been so, so much worse.
I only thought I'd mention it as he comments regularly on my blog, and has always supported me in my artistic endeavours (and manages to pinch all my best stuff for his own house). He has internet at home but not broadband so I'll not be blogging while I'm there, but I will be drawing and painting. So I'll speak to you all again soon and God bless.
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